The family of Derrick Bird said yesterday that they would like personally to apologise to the families of each of the 12 victims the gunman murdered in Cumbria.
In the first public statement made by Bird's relatives since the shootings on Wednesday morning, his family said they were "mortified" by what had happened but did not know what prompted the rampage.
The Reverend Jim Marshall, reading statements on behalf of Bird's sons, Graeme and Jamie, and his brother Brian, said the only explanation was that Bird had "flipped".
He added that one member of the family had said they "would love to go round to each family of those people killed in order to apologise for what has happened. That is their strength of feeling and they would do it if they had the strength."
Mr Marshall revealed that the surviving members of the Bird family had also found out about the murders as they happened on television, and that they feared they would be his next victims. He said: "Brian had been tending to his father's grave and was visiting his mother when a neighbour came to explain what was on the news. When they switched on the television and saw what was unfolding they locked all of the doors and windows.
"They thought that Derrick was coming round to finish the rest of the family off. I suppose if you realise that your brother has just killed his other brother then it is a natural reaction to think that you might be next."
Mr Marshall also explained that Bird's mother, Mary, was taken into hospital the day after the shootings and remains there. But he said this had been done more to remove her from the media storm which has since engulfed west Cumbria rather than due to the recurrence of a previous illness.
He said that she is aware of what happened and has not watched or read the news since. He added: "I think her words to me were: 'I don't know what has happened; it is just so awful. I cannot explain it. I cannot take it all in.'"
Yesterday, there were two statements released by the Bird family. Bird's sons, Graeme and Jamie, said: "We are utterly devastated about the death of our father. To us he was the nicest man you could ever meet.
"We do not know why our dad committed these horrific crimes. We are both mortified by these sad events. We would also like to send our condolences to all the other families and people involved in this tragic incident."
Bird's surviving brother, Brian, said: "My family and I are extremely saddened by the events on Wednesday. The loss of both my brothers is devastating. They were both very caring, family people. We cannot offer any reason why Derrick took it upon himself to commit these crimes. We are in shock and dismay."
There was speculation in Sunday newspapers that there would be a joint funeral for Derrick and David Bird. Mr Marshall said that, although this had been considered, the brothers will have separate services.
But he stressed that the extended family bear no ill will towards Derrick Bird. "He still has their respect because the person they saw and heard about for a few hours on Wednesday was not the man they knew and loved for 52 years," he said.
"Although they are sad that he has done these things, they are also sad that he is dead. There is dreadful sorrow, but there is also dreadful sadness."
He also dismissed reports of a family rift, explaining that Derrick and his brother David had visited their mother last Sunday, just three days before the massacre.Reuse content